Sherwood Park, ALTA. JULY 06, 2009 - Goalie #60 Andrew Perugini pulls along goalie coach Frederic Chabot during the Oilers develoment camp Monday at Millenium Place in Sherwood Park, July 06/09. (photo by Rick MacWilliam / Edmonton Journal)
Photograph by: (photo by Rick MacWilliam / Edmonton Journal), Canada.com
EDMONTON — Perhaps his talent was marginal. He was never that big and now, years later, admits he was slow on the ice. But Frédéric Chabot lasted 17 seasons as a professional goaltender, so he must have done something right.
He was a survivor then, just like he’s a survivor now. In his fifth season as a goaltending consultant or coach with the Edmonton Oilers, Chabot has survived a revolving door of head coaches — from Pat Quinn to Tom Renney, from Ralph Krueger to, now, Dallas Eakins.
“There were many good times and there were some rough spots,” Chabot, now 45, told The Gazette during a recent interview in the bowels of Rexall Place. “Even though I didn’t play in the NHL as much as I wanted, when I look back, I’m pretty happy with my career. I’m proud of what I did, how I learned to work and learned to be a pro.
“You have to appreciate the life. It’s a great life. It’s worth fighting for.”
Chabot was selected in the 10th round (192nd overall) by the New Jersey Devils in 1986. He would never play a game for the Devils, yet his pro career spanned three decades, from 1989-2006. He would dress for only 32 big-league games, spread over five seasons, with the Canadiens — twice — Philadelphia and Los Angeles. His record was a pedestrian 4-8-4, his goals-against average a modest 2.94.
His career followed a familiar, yet vicious, cycle.
After he was drafted by the Devils, Sean Burke was coming off an appearance in the Olympics, backed up by Robert Sauvé. And the organization’s two backups in the American Hockey League, Chris Terreri and Craig Billington, both had NHL experience.
When Chabot arrived in Montreal, he played behind Patrick Roy.
Chabot’s career was star-crossed, always arriving in an organization that didn’t require netminding help or didn’t have room on its roster.
“I wouldn’t call it unlucky,” he said, shrugging. “You have to make your own luck. You have to force teams to give you a chance, the opportunity. I guess, as a player, I was missing a little bit to force a team to say we want this guy in, we want him with us all the time.”
If there was a bright side to Chabot’s story, his nomadic career took him virtually everywhere. Even as an overage junior — and after going to the Memorial Cup with Drummondville — he made the unusual move of changing leagues, convincing the Devils to send him to Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, the Warriors eventually trading him to Prince Albert.
Chabot’s career would take him to the American, International and East Coast leagues, before completing the trek in Europe, playing in Germany and Austria.
His AHL stops included Sherbrooke, Fredericton and Hershey. He played for Fort Wayne, Las Vegas, Cincinnati and Houston in the IHL, and for Winston-Salem in the ECHL.
He won the Baz Bastien Memorial Award, as the AHL’s top goaltender, in 1993-94, with Hershey He was named the IHL’s most valuable player in 1996-97 and again three seasons later, when he was the league’s top netminder, logging a 2.13 average and .920 save percentage in 62 games with Houston. And, while with the Aeros, he captured the Turner Cup.
Following the 2001 season, the IHL disbanded, while Chabot still was a member of Houston. So he simply relocated to Europe, playing for Nuremberg and Mannheim in Germany, and Vienna in between for one season.
Mostly, Chabot has rented homes or apartments, somewhat predictably. His longest stay was in Houston, on and off for five seasons. The shortest? He was loaned to Las Vegas in 1993-94 by the Canadiens. He was supposed to spend the entire season there but, after two games and fewer than two weeks, André Racicot suffered an injury. Chabot was recalled instead of Les Kuntar.
That season alone, Chabot played for Vegas, Fredericton, Montreal, Hershey and Philadelphia.
Chabot and his wife, Suzanne, have been married since 1990. They have one son, Gabriel, who turns 18 in December.
“I played 17 years, so you move at least twice a year,” Chabot said, matter-of-factly. “I know I’ve moved a lot more than that. It’s part of the life. It’s a little hard on the family. You’re busy, you’re travelling or you get a new job and they have to take care of everything.
“I’ve been lucky enough that I’m still in hockey and I really enjoy it. When you enjoy what you do, you don’t count how many times you moved. You keep going and do the best you can.
“When a woman picks a hockey player to be their spouse,” he continued, “they pick the life. They better make sure they’re ready for it. It’s not easy. It’s not all glamour. If you’re a guy on the bubble or you play long enough, you’re going to change teams for sure. They have to be understanding and patient — ready to be as tough as the player.”
After playing 35 games with Fredericton, Chabot was recalled for three games by the Canadiens in 1990-91, the team coached by Pat Burns. There would be another game during 1993-94, followed by a final 11-game stint in 1998-99, under Alain Vigneault.
The Kings used him for 12 games in 1997-98 and there would be four games with the Flyers in 1993-94. That was the extent of Chabot’s NHL career.
“I think I could have been a good backup, but I think I had my chances,” he said. “I wish I could have had more. When I had my chances, sometimes I played well, sometimes I didn’t play as well as I should have. At the end of the day, I’m not bitter.”
Raised in Hebertville, Chabot dreamt of playing for the Canadiens. He said he always got along with the fiercely competitive Roy, but quickly realized his opportunities would be rare in Montreal. He went from being content with the chance, to realizing he must depart. But Chabot would be happy to be repatriated. Playing in Montreal sharpened his skills, he believes, bringing out the best in him.
“Playing in Montreal makes you a better player,” he said. “Most of the time it got the best out of me. I gave it my all, through the good and bad games. I knew I emptied the tank and did the best I could. That’s the way Montreal gets the best out of you.”
The time with the Canadiens also introduced him to goaltending instructor François Allaire. It was Allaire who taught Chabot the importance of work ethic, taught him to become a grinder, knowing that would eventually lead to more opportunities.
Allaire used Chabot at his summer hockey schools and, when Chabot retired, it seemed natural for him to get into coaching — first in Europe before working with Hockey Canada, both with its Program of Excellence and its national junior team. His ascendancy and durability with the Oilers, as a coach, trumps any success he enjoyed as an NHL player. And perhaps that’s the irony of the story.
“When you’re into it, you always want another chance, another opportunity,” Chabot said. “You think you could have done more. When you’re done and look back, I think I did pretty good. I’m happy with what I did.”
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